June 3, 2009 In the past few years there has been an increasing effort toward creating 3D computer interfaces and televisions. Now, it’s the television’s turn to see us.....in 3D! Since its foundation in 1999, Canesta has been working on a family of low-cost, chip-based 3-D sensors that can be built into virtually anything – from TVs and PCs to cars and industrial equipment - and now the technology is filtering through to real-world applications like Kicker Studio's gesture control entertainment system. Dr. Peter Puya Abolfathi - Biomedical Engineer, co-inventor of the Rehabilitation Glove and now a member of the Gizmag Team - takes a closer look at how this technology works and what it's bringing to our living rooms.

Canesta's revolutionary perception technology chips can "see" three dimensionally in real time. During the last decade, the company has filed in excess of fifty patents, 37 of which have been granted so far.

One exciting application for this technology is now being showcased by Kicker Studio in an entertainment system that is controlled by gestures alone. The entertainment system can react to a multitude of gestures to allow control of video and audio content such as channel change, play back and fast forward. Remarkably, it can also be sensitive to a single control master in a room with multiple individuals. No more fighting for the remote control.

How the technology works

The CMOS based chips work like camera CCDs where each pixel also contains depth information. This depth is obtained by measuring the time it takes for light to leave the source at the camera, reflect off objects and return to the camera chip. True 3-D sensing involves determining the distance from the sensor to every important feature in the sensor's field of view, and then using that information to discriminate objects, individuals, movements, body parts, hand gestures, or just about any other detail – mimicking the process performed so effortlessly by human eyes and brains. When performed electronically, however, such technology gives ordinary devices an entirely new degree of perception that enables unprecedented interaction with the surrounding environment.

“Touch-free gestural interfaces – where the user can control a nearby TV or PC with the ‘wave of a hand’ – will revolutionize the landscape in the 'digital living room', much as the Apple iPhone and Nintendo Wii did in their respective markets," says Jim Spare, CEO of Canesta. However, the way Canesta technology is distinguishable from iPhone and Wii is that it requires no physical contact with a device. In contrast, with Wii, for example, 3D movement is detected using solid-state accelerometers and gyroscopes within the controller which the user has to hold in their hand.

A 3D future

Consumers were first widely introduced to the touchless gestural interface in Steven Spielberg’s landmark film Minority Report, where the character played by Tom Cruise orchestrated several large forensic computer displays with a ballet of hand gestures. Nowadays, the concept shows up routinely in popular TV series like CSI: Miami.

"Over the next several years, we expect hardware companies such as TV and PC manufacturers, [gesture recognition] software suppliers such as SoftKinetic and GestureTek, and service providers, to all find new ways of leveraging the 3-D touchless gestural interface to provide a better user experience, and generate new business opportunities," says Spare.

The introduction of such technology will no doubt bring with it a brand new way to interact with electronics and future waves of novel uses which haven’t even been conceived yet. In the mean time, we can look forward to saying goodbye to our ever increasing collection of remote controls.

Peter Puya Abolfathi, Phd

Check out the video demo of Canesta technology:

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